Landscape Lost: Forestry and Life in the Duncan River Valley

Bob Wallace

Bob Wallace at Shutty Bench

Robert Wallace was born November 30, 1911 in Rossland, BC, but his childhood residence was Burnaby, BC. Wallace served in the Navy in his teens. Later as a young man he spent years riding box cars across Canada although he homesteaded in Athabasca for a short time. He came to Shutty Bench, north of Kaslo, BC in the late 1930s, where he met and married his wife Irene Nichols. Bob and Irene had three daughters: Maureen, Betty, and Barbara. As parents who loved the outdoors, Bob and Irene were active with the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and imbued many young people with their knowledge of the bush. A talented individual, Bob was well known as a photographer, musician and carpenter. He played drums and the mouth organ in the local bands and was noted for the musical instruments and toys he made.

In June of 1942, Wallace was hired to construct the lookout at Bear Creek, and man the station for the summer. He was supervised by Harry Thomlinson, Assistant Ranger for the Region, and Bob Robinson, Ranger. Wallace worked with Sandy Mason, Fred Simpson, Vic Weber and Johannes Fenger. They were given a wide range of responsibilities: to dynamite the log jams on the rivers, to carry in supplies to other Forest Service Station in the area and to build and maintain trails and bridges going to the Lookout towers. They were also expected to assist in the construction of the Forest Service boathouses, lookout towers and ranger stations while the whole time diligently watching for the first hint of smoke from a forest fire.

Since there were no roads into the region, the rivers and trails were the only transportation routes. Packtrains were rarely used but in 1947 and 1948 horses were loaded onto a raft lashed between two riverboats and brought up the Upper Duncan River from Howser to Healy’s Landing. The horses were used to pack materials and tools used to complete the construction of the cupola on Bear Lookout and provide food enough to maintain the crew.

The riverboats were built by local shipwrights, such as, Roy Green of Kaslo, Bill Hendren, and the Walton Boatworks in Nelson, BC. Thirty-three feet long and powered by a 22 ½ horse powered Johnson outboard the riverboats were eminently suited for the shallow fast moving mountain rivers. Wallace photographed many of these boats, as they were an essential element for life in the Forest Service and for the inhabitants of the Region.

Bob Wallace was seldom seen without his staunch companion, Laddie, a scotch terrier/dachshund cross. The pair had many hair-raising experiences in the bush. Perhaps the most famous tale is the one recounted by Triggs in the liner notes of his folk album recorded in 1961. According to Triggs, Wallace was ten-feet from the jaws of an angry grizzly when Laddie darted between the bear’s legs and got a firm hold of his testicles. The bear took off.

Bob Wallace and his family lived in Shutty Bench, but in the summer season, he would move to Howser where he lived in a small-framed cottage. For at least some of the summers, Irene and the family would live there as well. After the fire season was over, the family would return to the house in Shutty Bench. For much of the summer season Bob was working at the Forest Service outpost, occupying the old log buildings at Healy’s Landing, 33 river miles up the Duncan from Howser, keeping watch from the lookout up Bear Creek. During the last years of his service, he carried out many duties as the leading patrolman. Irene was not left entirely alone while he was gone. Although small, Howser was a thriving community with a store and post office, a dentist and the many families of loggers and sawmill workers of the Duncan Lumber Company.

Besides documenting Forest Service activities, Bob photographed many events and celebrations in the Lardeau Valley, such as, the annual 1st of July tug-of-war and pie eating contests.

Wallace maintained a life long interest in the construction of log structures. This interest is reflected in his many photographs of cabins, houses, and outhouses in and around Howser, Gerrard, Healy’s Landing and Gold Hill. Before a road was pushed through from Kaslo the village of Lardeau was the supply centre for the Lardeau and Duncan Valleys. The CPR paddlewheeler SS Moyie came twice a week. Saturdays it would drop off or pick up passengers and general freight. Wednesdays it would push a barge bringing box cars and flat cars to drop off larger supplies or machinery and to pick up lumber, poles and pilings or to ship livestock to market. Bob photographed some of these waterfront activities, the small boats, boathouses and forestry buildings.

Irene Wallace died in 1981 and after that, Bob moved to Upper Kaslo and took a position with the Village of Kaslo. At some point after Irene's death, some negatives were inadvertently taken to the Kaslo Dump in a box containing unwanted materials. They were found by Cappy Jacurra, a resident of Shutty Bench and an avid amateur photographer, who recognized the significance of the images. After contacting the family, the negatives were eventually donated to Touchstones Nelson and are part of this collection. Bob died in Kaslo on February 9, 1996 at the age of 84.